Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why not put failed pilots on iTunes?

If you follow entertainment news, you'll have noticed this week that the networks have started to announce which pilots are being ordered for next season.  Next week, each network will take its turn announcing their fall schedule.

It's an exciting couple of weeks if your show gets ordered, and an agonizing one if they've passed on you.  Some networks might pick up fewer than half of the pilots they produced.  The ones that don't make the schedule often disappear for good.  At best, they might surface around town as screeners, passed from executive to executive curious to check out a particular actor, or interested in seeing how a high-concept idea came together.

A good example is the pilot for last year's David E. Kelley Wonder Woman.  It didn't make the schedule, but it was pretty easy to find someone who had access to a bootlegged version, to the point where it eventually leaked online.  It's easy to see why there was such interest.  It's a pre-existing property and was one of the highest profile pilots of that year.  From the moment that pictures of the Wonder Woman costume leaked online, seemingly everyone who saw it had an opinion on it.  Even if the show came out terrible, it was a enough of a curiousity that fans wanted to see how it came out.

That's why it astounds me that Warner Bros and NBC didn't make the pilot available online.  Just imagine if they'd put it up on iTunes for $1.99.  They could have recouped some of the costs, and the fans would have a legitimate copy rather than resorting to piracy.  It's not as if they can do anything else with the pilot, so why not try to build some kind of revenue stream?

Why NOT put every unordered pilot online?  People worked hard on those episodes, doesn't their hard work deserve an audience?  I think it would also be fascinating to see what didn't get ordered, sort of like playing "Fantasy Network Executive."

I suppose I can see the argument that networks wouldn't want to demystify the process that much.  Then again, look at the saga of Nobody's Watching.  The pilot was produced for the WB in 2005 and after it didn't make the schedule, someone (likely executive producer Bill Lawrence) leaked it to YouTube a year later.  The show gained such a cult audience that for a time, it looked like it might get a second chance.  Maybe some network executives who passed on the show were embarrassed when reporters began running stories about how stupid it was of them to let this show get away.

Even as a type that, the excuse seems a little thin.  How about you guys?  Does anyone else feel like this is an idea who's time has come?  Are there any pilots from this year that you'd like to see, should they not get picked up?


  1. This makes me think.. HBO should do this with How to Make It in America!

  2. Great idea actually. I know there's a few pilots I'm dying to see, like Ron D. Moore's canned pilot from last year, the Locke & Key pilot. I'm sure there are more pilots I've just forgotten about now. I doubt they'd make a lot of money out of it, but I suppose a little is better than nothing.

  3. Moore's pilot briefly leaked online late last year and the general reaction was one of disappointment, even among his fans.

    But yeah, there definitely would have been interest in those two last year, among others.

  4. Great idea! Why is this not a thing?

  5. Just look at the Aquaman - Mercy Reef Pilot. It wasn't picked up but put on itunes and was one of the most downloaded shows.

  6. I think the whole idea of being limited by a schedule is going to come to an end soon. People watch the shows they want when they want to watch them. The idea that the network only has room for so many shows and they are presented one at a time is already antiquated.

  7. I used to work at a TV studio and I once asked the studio head why they didn't post pilots online (this is only a couple of years ago). The answer was that there wasn't enough of a return on investment for the project to release something that wasn't good enough to be on the schedule. Even at $2, it would take 2 MILLION viewers for a pilot's costs to be close to compensated. At the same time, it would potentially embarrass creative talent involved at the detriment of the studio's relationship while giving competitors easier insight into competitive development. I agree that I wish that they would put them online, but I understand why they don't. I think the best thing right now is the Amazon Studios Series competition, which at least has a democratic approach to selecting projects like we wish the broadcast networks would.